WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Galesburg School District Looking at Multiple Cost-Savings Options

Jan 15, 2017

The Galesburg School District is looking at short-term and long-term solutions to get its financial house in order.

In the short-term, the district is looking to balance its FY18 budget, which takes effect July 1, 2017. The district needs to make around $600,000 in cuts to achieve that. The original deficit was estimated at around $2.3 million dollars. But $1.7 million of that will be covered by a 25-cent increase in the tax levy.

At the January Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Ralph Grimm presented his suggestion for balancing the budget. He proposed spending cuts of $1,9 million, including:

  • Freezing teacher salaries for one year ($1,200,000 in savings)
  • Eliminating 10 elementary school teaching positions ($450,000 in savings)
  • Replacing three nurse positions with a District Health Coordinator and a Certified Nurse Assistant in each of the district's eight buildings ($95,311 in savings)
  • Replacing the Head of Security and Attendance position with an Assistant Principal ($20,756 in savings)
  • Reorganizing the district's library services ($231,161 in savings)
  • Eliminating the summer driver education program in the classroom and behind the wheel ($16,264 in savings)
  • Replacing three Outreach positions with an Assistant Principal in each of the district's five elementary school buildings ($39,400 additional costs)

Grimm said declining enrollment is one factor in the deeper cuts. Another is the ongoing uncertainty regarding state funding.  

"We’re about $1.4 million short this year in revenue from the state for the categoricals and the pre-K program. And so, I have to position the board for the worst-case scenario. And the worst-case scenario is that $1.4 million becomes $2.8 million," Grimm said.

Categoricals cover costs related to transportation and special education programs. Grimm said if the district did not adjust spending, it would have to use operating fund reserves to cover what the state doesn't provide. Currently, the operating fund reserves are around $10.5 million.

One person who is not a fan of the proposed cuts is Galesburg Education Association President Dave Sharp, who said affected personnel were not told of the budget reduction plans until the day of the board meeting. Sharp said some employees were pulled out of classes to be told that their job could be affected.

Sharp said the proposals scare him.

"We have put a lot of positions in the school district for a reason. And those reasons are there to help those students who fall through the cracks, those students who are struggling, those students that need that extra help, those ones who will not make it without us. And we're starting to take those away," Sharp said.

Sharp said he's also concerned about how the district has spent money in the past few years. He cited the football stadium that opened in 2014 and new furniture bought for Silas Willard Elementary last year.

Sharp the union's membership will discuss the proposals this month to gauge their feelings on it. He said the union has already given too much to help the district, including giving up six days of pay after the 2014 strike.

The district wanted to implement a pay freeze last year. It was withdrawn after the state approved a full year of general state aid when it passed a stop gap budget.

Closing School Buildings

The other way the Galesburg School District is looking to save money is by potentially closing at least one building. The idea is included in a building study the district commissioned from Phillips and Associates Architects of Canton.

The firm was charged with determining what repairs are still needed at the district's buildings, and if the district's declining enrollment means it could get by with a smaller number of buildings. It found that six of the nine buildings needed work:

  • Lincoln School (pre-K) - Ventilation and roof repairs
  • Nielson Grade School - Ventilation and roof repairs
  • King Grade School - Ventilation and roof repairs
  • Gale Grade School - Ventilation and roof repairs
  • Churchill Junior High - Ventilation, roof repairs, asbestos, plumbing, and electrical
  • Galesburg High School - Ventilation, asbestos, and plumbing

The study presented nine options for the district to consider. All but one of the options suggested closing a school building. Six of the eight options that do recommend closing a building include Churchill Junior High, which needs around $6 million of work.

The school board favored two options. One would close Churchill and build an addition at Lombard Middle School to accommodate the Churchill students. The other would close Gale and King Grade Schools along with Churchill, and build the addition at Lombard.  Nielson Grade School also appeared in one recommendation to be closed.

School Board member Wayne Statham said closing a school building must be considered.

"I don’t want to keep on cutting programs and class offerings. We gotta find savings somewhere else. And this is the place to make huge savings," Statham said at Monday's meeting.

Depending on which option is chosen, the district is looking at a price tag between $30-35 million to do all the repair work and the Lombard additions. Grimm said the cost would be worth it in the long run because the cost of doing the work would be offset by the savings.

Grimm added that if a building were to be closed, it wouldn't happen for a while. He expects all buildings to remain open for the 2017-18 school year.